From getting shredded to feeling confident about your sweet dance moves—a healthy testosterone level is often key. Proper exercise is a great way to achieve the right levels, but can MMA do the same?
Does MMA Boost Testosterone Levels?
Mixed martial arts (MMA) do boost testosterone levels but only minimally. This is due to the testosterone-cortisol ratio. Because MMA is high-stakes and stressful, cortisol (the “stress” hormone) circulates in the body. When there is more cortisol in the bloodstream, there is less testosterone produced.
A high contact and aggressive sport like MMA should be skyrocketing testosterone levels, but that’s not the case. Let’s dig in and explore what the best exercises are to keep your testosterone levels optimal.
Will MMA Increase Testosterone Levels?
As mentioned before, the physical act of MMA barely increases testosterone. Exercising can lead to sizable ups in testosterone—but only when activity-induced stress is absent.
A meta-analysis of combat sports (which encompasses MMA) reveals that high-stakes and competitive combat sports always lead to increases in cortisol. It’s not surprising considering that your body is in a constant “fight or flight” mode during your match.
With no feasible way to remove stress in an MMA match, consider another option if you need to raise your testosterone levels.
The Exception: Winning and Testosterone
More than actually fighting, the act of winning itself is tremendously valuable at increasing testosterone levels. Even believing to have won has been researched to increase the production of this hormone.
People who believed they won had approximately 5% more testosterone, while actual winners had almost 15% more testosterone than their loser counterparts.
So, yes, if you win an MMA match, then perhaps your testosterone levels will go up substantially, but that’s about it.
MMA and Testosterone Loss
MMA is a high-stakes and risky sport. It’s not guaranteed to happen—but the risks need to be considered. The potential complications of MMA fighting may go on to decrease testosterone levels long term.
- Traumatic brain injuries: Obviously, repeated blows to the head are not good. But, it should be noted that 80% of traumatic brain injuries experience low testosterone levels.
- Physical Injuries and stress: Physical Injuries produce psychological effects. These include frustration and anxiety—the main culprits in increasing cortisol.
Does Fighting in General Boost Testosterone?
Whether it’s kickboxing, karate, or judo—most benefits to testosterone levels will be offset if stress is present. When a single mistake can lead to losing or even injury, it’s hard not to be stressed. It’s only human instinct to go into that “fight or flight” mode.
While stress and cortisol production are not inherently bad when controlled, it’s always linked negatively with testosterone. Remember the testosterone-cortisol ratio. When one goes up, the other goes down.
Fighting can be exciting and freeing, but there’s always going to be that little bit of anxiety in the back.
Do MMA Fighters Take Testosterone?
Official MMA fighters do not take testosterone—they’re not supposed to anyway. While it was possible to undergo testosterone replacement therapy before, it was officially banned in 2014 in the UFC after being a source of controversy for years.
The use of testosterone-enhancing steroids is case-by-case. While organizations like the UFC are intensively monitoring steroid use, others such as ONE Championship have not been doing so hot. With media scrutiny, more organizations will follow the UFC’s lead.
Testosterone Replacement Therapy
This form of therapy is typically used to treat people with chronic and low levels of testosterone. Before the ban, there were at least 15 MMA fighters in the UFC with therapeutic use exemptions (TUE).
Because there was no real way of knowing if the TUE was causing unfair advantages or just leveling the playing field—it was scrapped altogether.
What Exercises Increase Testosterone the Most?
Here, we’re going to cover the two best forms of exercise to raise testosterone levels. The two types include resistance training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Resistance training exists in the form of weight lifting and bodyweight exercises. With resistance training, research has indicated both short and long-term increases in testosterone. Let’s look at some studies that can back this up.
- A 2007 study revealed that a 30-minute weight lifting session increased testosterone levels as much as 21.6% in men. For women, there was a 16.7% increase.
- Another study revealed that three sets of 10 reps were enough to increase testosterone levels in men.
While weight lifting and MMA are both exercises that improve the body’s fitness, weight lifting helps to relieve stress—not generate it. With lower levels of the stress hormone, testosterone increases without having any restraints.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
While weight lifting worked for both men and women—high-intensity interval training has been researched and only works with biological men. A 2014 study reveals that regular HIIT exercise sessions were able to increase testosterone levels in men.
For anyone unfamiliar with HIIT training, it involves short bursts of high-intensity exercise. This could be cycling, swimming, or even running. The bursts just need to be intense and then a break. Remember, HIIT is not the same as cardio. It is exercise that is anaerobic.
What Else Can be Done to Raise Testosterone Levels?
Other than practicing the right exercises, some lifestyle elements can help you reach your optimal testosterone level. These include:
- Reduce stress: As mentioned, stress produces cortisol. Long-term stress will cause chronic levels of high cortisol, which results in chronic levels of low testosterone.
- Get enough vitamin D: More than half the U.S. population is deficient in the sunshine vitamin. It has numerous benefits, and maintaining optimal testosterone levels is one of them. Try to spend at least 30 minutes in the sun or consult doctors about supplements.
- High-quality sleep: Sleep makes everything better. Without proper amounts of sleep, both your mind and body will have trouble functioning. Aim for at least 7 hours. Research proves that good sleep and testosterone are correlated.
- Avoid estrogen products: Routine consumption of soy products like soymilk and tofu has been linked to decreased testosterone levels. That is because soy products contain a substantial amount of estrogen. When one increases, the other decreases.
- Eat proteins, fats, and carbs: Adequate protein, fats, and carbs are crucial when doing weight training and HIIT. These exercises promote muscle growth, and muscles promote testosterone production. If you don’t eat enough of these groups, your muscles won’t grow no matter how hard you work out. That indirectly decreases your testosterone.
- Natural superfoods: Nature supplements like ginger extract and ashwagandha have been researched to effectively increase testosterone levels. These have minimal side effects while also having other health benefits as well.
More than just physical things like facial hair and big muscles having the right amount of testosterone in your system makes life better.
It makes you more fun to be around, and it makes you feel more comfortable in your own skin. An optimal level of testosterone can prevent disease and sexual problems as well.
With so many benefits, it makes sense that unnatural testosterone supplements are so popular. But, those are unhealthy, and the effects don’t last. The best way to secure an optimal and healthy testosterone level is through exercise and lifestyle changes.
While MMA is not a great way to boost testosterone, other exercises are! The natural way will produce the best results in the long run.
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U.S. National Library of Medicine